Get my cats off my table!
August 22, 2010 5:33 PM   Subscribe

Our three cats are brazenly unfazed when we squirt them with water guns. They jump up on the counter tops, we squirt them, they scamper away, and then five minutes later they're back up there. What are other ways to make them fear the humans' surfaces?

The offenders are Thomas, Henry and Bosco. They are awesome, except when they decide to walk on surfaces where we cook and eat with their dirty little paws. We're not able to hide when we squirt them, so they know the provenance of water is human and not a mystical force associated with the tables and counter tops, which is probably why they risk trespassing in the first place.

Maybe they're just dumber than your average cat, but every time we squirt them they look absolutely shocked, as if it's the first it's ever happened to them and not sixty-eighth squirt that morning. None of them seems to know it's even a crime, because they'll hang out nonchalantly on a counter top even after a person walks into the room all the way up until they see a water gun emerging into view. We moved into this house nearly a year ago and squirting has been our MO since almost Day 1, so it's not a matter of patience and consistency.

We've tried booby trapping the surfaces with duct tape, but this makes surfaces unusable for both cats and household humans.

The kitten's favorite surface has lately been the freaking stove, so a solution is imperative. We need ways to gently freak them out, preferably ones like booby traps that work even when we're not around.

I'm tired of getting the wounded "What was that for?!" look from the felines every time I squirt them, despite the fact that this has been going on for almost a year. Please help!
posted by zoomorphic to Pets & Animals (42 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Mousetraps? I know my parents used to place a bunch near the edge of the counters to keep our beagle from jumping up and grabbing food off the edge. Maybe the loud noise would do a lot better than water (my tabby is the same way, spray him and he just sits and stares at you until his face is soaked).

Or maybe some other loud buzzer or alarm noise that is easy to trigger - keep it near the counters and when you see a kitty jump (and only then) you literally raise the alarm.
posted by ish__ at 5:40 PM on August 22, 2010

I feel your pain. We lived like that for almost 10 years before discovering The Kitchen Towel. For some reason, our cats are horrified when we slap the countertop with it; it doesn't even have to be anywhere near them. It's now gotten to the point where all I have to do is pick up the towel if I see one of the cats eyeing the countertop and--POOF!--the kitty is gone.

Of course, I have no idea what goes on while we're out of the house (a countertop party, probably), but really, who cares; this has solved our most pressing problem, as the kitties are 100% off-countertop while we're cooking/eating/entertaining.
posted by onepot at 5:44 PM on August 22, 2010

when the cat jumps up, clap your hands as close to it as possible and yell, "HEY!" cats do not like sudden loud noises, and will usually respond by getting the hell out of dodge. if the cat looks confused and doesn't immediately jump down, sweep it down with a quick arm movement. repeat instantly every time cat jumps up: CLAP/ HEY! / sweep. if the cat even looks like it's going to jump up, kind of make a marge-simpson rumbly noise. the cat will often look at you sheepishly and wander off. the little monsters KNOW they shouldn't be doing that! heh. i love cats.
posted by miss patrish at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2010

Most cats hate loud noises, so shaking an empty Coke can full of coins might work?
posted by stranger danger at 5:50 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I saw this brilliant solution a few years back:

Basically, an IR sensor will trigger a blender that sits on the counter to scare off the cat. The best part is, it works when you are not home or in the room. This means the cat doesn't associate the scary thing with you, so they will avoid it when you are not around and won't hate you for scaring them :D
posted by keep_evolving at 5:53 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

This will sound mean, but I promise, it worked for several dozen cats over the years. Keep a bowl of beanbags close at hand - the ones that are about palm sized - and every time a cat does something you don't want it to do, launch one at the cat. It doesn't honestly matter if it hits the cat, it just hast to come close enough to make the cat go "WTF WAS THAT? HIT THE DECK!"

After a few weeks of palm to feline missile treatment, they will behave.
posted by strixus at 5:56 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Put aluminum foil on the surfaces you want them to stay off of. Cats don't like the sound or the way it feels on their feet.
posted by corey flood at 5:57 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding a soda can with a few pennies in it. Rattle it sharply whenever a cat appears to even be thinking about getting up on the counter.
posted by rtha at 6:02 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try adding scent to the equation, cats don't like citrus. I'd try to find something safe to add to the spray bottle (something that won't hurt their eyes and can be ingested) and keep the counter top smelling lemony fresh.
I've heard laying tin foil along the edge they jump to startles them when they touch it, never worked for me, but every cat is different.
Depending on the layout of your house you might consider banning them from the kitchen entirely. Spray and yell at them as soon as they walk in the door.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 6:05 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Our cat doesn't care about being sprayed with water, got used to the "pennies in a can" trick within a day, doesn't mind citrus scent and totally ignores saran wrap, etc. on the surface. About the only thing we've found that has worked is these things:

For our cat, they work amazingly well. It's the only thing that works to keep him off of the counters. Now, even if he sees it sitting there, he stays away. Kind of expensive, but totally worth it to us.
posted by sharding at 6:13 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

it might not go with your decor, but if you have any old cd's hanging around not doing anything, string them up from your cupboards. From what I understand, the kitties don't like the shiny, rotating surfaces...
posted by patheral at 6:17 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so far for the answers!

Just to reiterate, normal methods of that involve humans freaking the cats out don't really work. Sometimes when we wander into the kitchen to catch a cat yawning on a table, we simply yell "HEY STUPID, GET OFF" and they run away. The cats don't really like being squirted or yelled at, but since they know it's coming from our direction they're content to risk that consequence for some sweet, sweet table action. Maybe jangling coins or snapping towels will be more effective, but I seriously doubt it.

In conclusion, I'm mainly looking for tactics that work even when we're not in the kitchen.

I like the idea of the sensory-activated blender, but we have several verboten surfaces and not enough money to bug them all. Aluminum foil (slathered in citrus juice, perhaps) sounds promising.

On preview, holy shit sharding, that little spray device looks amazing. Too bad the website isn't helpful regarding the price. But it's really satisfying to just watch the videos of cats diving off tables. Heheheh I'll show you, cats....
posted by zoomorphic at 6:19 PM on August 22, 2010

the sss-cat scary canned air thing is available everywhere online. Strongly recommend.
posted by k8t at 6:27 PM on August 22, 2010

I have a whole arsenal of things to deter cats. If water doesn't work, soda can with pennies or beans might work. One thing that works all the time is compressed air. Just shoot it in the direction of the cat and they'll usually take off. It sounds like a really loud hiss, so you get the point across in cat-talk.

Also, the thing about soda cans is you have to launch them from cover to get best results. Then it really does seem like can bombs from above.
posted by fiercekitten at 6:39 PM on August 22, 2010

Just to reiterate, normal methods of that involve humans freaking the cats out don't really work.

Yeah, just as a general comment, this is really the crux of the matter, and why you need something like the spray-can solution. Cats are smart, and if there is any point when you aren't around or not paying attention, they'll figure out pretty quick that it's all about your presence and has nothing to do with the cans rattling, air horn (although, hmm...), water spray, etc. So you really have two choices: find a way to scare them when you're not around, or...get used to it.

Good luck! I wrestled with this in a past life with cats and just gave up, more or less.
posted by dubitable at 6:45 PM on August 22, 2010

We've never had luck with the spray bottle, but both our cats respect a cup of water poured over their heads. But still, the older cat learned not to jump on the stove after the first cup of water and has never jumped on the stove or counters since (5+ years), while the younger cats tests the boundaries every few months.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:48 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: I trained my cat to stay away from the oven by throwing the cat in it and banging the door open and closed a few times.

I trained her to stay out of the refrigerator by putting her in it and closing the door for a little while, with it running.

Yeah, that's messed up. It annoys me when my cats saunter on the table, but they're still vulnerable animals and I'm not going to throw in the fucking refrigerator. Just because I'm bigger and stronger than they are doesn't mean I'm going to terrorize them needlessly.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:53 PM on August 22, 2010 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Everyone else, thanks so much for the help. We're getting a few of those motion-activated spray cans ASAP. Thanks again, Metafilter!
posted by zoomorphic at 6:54 PM on August 22, 2010

1. Cats are weird.

2. Cats love to be places where they're not supposed to be.

3. Cats are sneaky and vengeful. They know you don't want them to be on these surfaces - as soon as your back is turned or you're out the door they will be up on the surface rubbing their little kitty asses all over. They probably take pictures. Cats are crazy talented!

3. Keep disinfectant handy for the surfaces.

4. Scotch tape, sticky side up + aluminum foil.

5. Mousetraps are scary and mean. My aunt had a cat that ended up with a broken tail due to a mousetrap on a table.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:57 PM on August 22, 2010

There's the ScatMat which gives a static shock when jumped on. It worked pretty well for my cats, but the problem is you have these gray mats on your counters.
posted by ShooBoo at 7:02 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: 5. Mousetraps are scary and mean. My aunt had a cat that ended up with a broken tail due to a mousetrap on a table.

Agreed, and I meant to highlight this in my initial callout. A mousetrap would likely snap a kitty's bones in half, so that's not an option. So, to clarify, I need methods that will deter my cats A) when we're not around, and B) without injuring or seriously terrorizing them.

The ScatMat also looks promising, though knowing how our cats reacted to the duct tape, they'll find ways to skit around the edges.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:16 PM on August 22, 2010

Thirding the Ssscats. They have worked extremely well on three of my parents' four cats. (Cat #4, the brains of the outfit, figured out that the hiss wasn't going to do her any harm.) Only downside: you, too, will be ssscatted.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:19 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm thirding the canned air thing - I keep cans in strategic locations and managed to convince my cat not to go out onto the balcony, as well as to stay out of certain rooms of the apartment. Most of the time now all I have to do is pick it up and he knows that whatever he's doing is Not To Be Done.

Of course, when I'm not around, all bets are off. He knows damn well what parts of the house are off-limits, but if I had a nickel for every time he came streaking out of the laundry room when he heard me coming....
posted by MShades at 7:20 PM on August 22, 2010

zap mat... google it... works great!
posted by HuronBob at 7:26 PM on August 22, 2010

I am wrong in assuming that you work outside of the home, or are otherwise prevented from keeping the cats off the kitchen counters at all times? Because its likely that from the cat's perspective, 90% of the time the countertops are fun-awesometime and 10% of the time you show up with a watergun for no reason. I would recommend one of the solutions mentioned that works even when you are not present.
posted by fermezporte at 7:31 PM on August 22, 2010

zoomorphic, look's like you've already found where to buy the ssscat kits, but for future readers, I thought I'd post this Amazon link, since they curiously don't sell them on the actual ssscat site.
posted by marsha56 at 8:04 PM on August 22, 2010

I just wanted to second the aluminum foil trick- it's worked with several cats I've had. Particularly on "soft" surfaces like couches, where they didn't expect there to be this crinkly shiny thing, it startled the cats enough to keep them off.

That said, my current set of cats are demonic. They go on catnip binges then run around the apartment tearing down every single thing that's on a tabletop, no matter what I do to said tabletops. They were dropped on the head as kittens, I'm fairly sure.
posted by Cracky at 8:18 PM on August 22, 2010

We had some success keeping our cats off the kitchen counter by heavily dusting it with flour -- they hated and/or were confused by it and would jump off immediately. This did make a flour-y mess in the kitchen, but only for a couple of days, and those surfaces were easy to clean.

We kept them off a different counter by putting a couple of old cookie sheets up there -- the metal sheets were kind of cockeyed and uneven, so when the cat stepped on one it shifted and gave off a scary metallic noise -- kind of similar to the tin foil thing. Success!
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:37 PM on August 22, 2010

OK, you seem to believe that putting a cat temporarily in a refrigerator (long enough for it to realize that the fridge is an unpleasant place to be) is "torture", so you probably won't like this method...

Put slips of paper on the edges of furniture they jump onto. The paper will slide, and kitty will fall off (or nearly so), and think twice & three times before jumping up again.

Cats are famous for landing well when dropped. It will not hurt them.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:04 PM on August 22, 2010

OK, you seem to believe that putting a cat temporarily in a refrigerator (long enough for it to realize that the fridge is an unpleasant place to be) is "torture"....

I don't think she's the only one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 PM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hm. I guess I have an unusual cat then. I just say "get down" and then lift him down. It doesn't take right away. After several dozen reps of that, he knows he's not supposed to be there and almost totally stops getting up there.

Occasionally he will test to see if it is still forbidden, and all I have to do is say the words and make a bit of a move to get up, and he jumps down guiltily.

I was also able to teach him 'wait here' when he was a kitten so I could get him to wait on one side of the fence for me to go around the back side and chase all the geckos his way. Man, he loved that. He'd start purring like a lion and switching his tail when I told him to wait. Same technique. "Wait here." "No, wait here." [pick him up and put him back in his spot] (x 1000)
posted by ctmf at 9:23 PM on August 22, 2010

I've done cookie sheets filled with water on the edges of countertops, which worked pretty well (although noisy/wet- they freaked out when they landed in the water and scrammed, knocking everything to the ground). This has the bonus of working when you are out of the apartment, if you don't have fancy floor or things you would mind getting wet in the vicinity.

However, the I'm pretty sure the only reason it worked was that they didn't have any access to a spot other than the floor to reach the counter, so they were always jumping blind; if your cats have a place in the apartment from which they could suss out the situation, it would probably work less well.
posted by charmedimsure at 10:13 PM on August 22, 2010

I have an uber-smart kitteh (he's part Maine Coon) who loooves water (he gets in the shower with me every morning and gets pissed if I accidentally shut him out of the bathroom) and finds my attempts at loud-noise-scaring him laughable. You know how cats laugh - they remain immobile, look at you, raise a front paw to lick it, look at you again through slit eyes, and swish their tail a few times.

What worked with smarty-furry-pants was positive reinforcement. "Hey! Get off the counter!" Then gently take him off and put him on the floor. Cat flicks ears back with that "pff stupid human ruining everything, just wait 'til she turns her back", and then I say, "ohh you're such a good kitty, staying on the ground, good kitty! *petpetpet*" Cat's ears go forward, purrs, decides that staying on the ground is much more profitable than hopping onto the counter. Rinse and repeat. It can take a while, but they start to learn that counter = annoying loud human and off the counter = tummy rubs! Be sure to pet and compliment them when they're on the ground near the counter and haven't jumped on it too, that's especially important for reinforcing the positive side.
posted by fraula at 1:30 AM on August 23, 2010

Okay let me clarify something...

I wouldn't have a cat if I didn't like them. I had a kitten years ago that jumped down from a stove top onto a hot, open oven door. When she jumped up after landing (because of burned paws), she jumped toward the oven coils and was badly burned on her back. That's why I wanted the cat to be afraid of the oven. And yeah, I think preventing that kind of injury is worth scaring the shit out of the cat.

When I put the cat in the fridge (and by put I mean "closed the door after she got in it by herself"), it was for maybe two-three minutes. When she started yowling, I let her out. She never went to the refrigerator door when I opened it after that.

I fail to see how being put in a dark, cold box for two or three minutes is "cruelty" especially since its not something I'd do every day, or even more than once.

And if you truly don't want your cats getting on your kitchen counters, whether you are there or not, the simple answer is to not let them in the kitchen at all.
posted by disclaimer at 5:04 AM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding (thirding?) the cat zapper mats. Our two cats were jumping (and clawing) the couches, and wouldn't stay off the the counters even with liberal doses of spray bottles. The cat zapper (it probably has another name, but will forever be the cat zapper to me) worked instantly. Each of them jumped on the counter exactly once, leapt four feet vertically in the air, and then ran to hide under the bed for a few minutes. I left the mat on the counter for a while to see if they were sneaking up in the middle of the night, but never heard it go off again.

It also makes a pretty distinctive beep when it goes off, and you can set it to just beep (no static charge) after they associate the sound with the zapping. I've also zapped myself on it much more often than the cats have, and can report that it has no longer-lasting effects than a split-second "holy shit what the hell was that?!" experience.
posted by Mayor West at 5:32 AM on August 23, 2010

Ha, flour! I have one cat that sees flour spread on a table (when I'm baking bread) as a personal challenge/cat play area. I can't turn my back when I'm baking without him getting right in the middle of the flour and making kitty prints in it. He wasn't even fazed when he jumped off the table and slid across the kitchen floor because of the flour on his paws. He recently discovered kitchen counters, too. I need to try citrus. I suspect foil would become his favorite toy.

My other cat only has to be told something once and he never does it again. I wish all cats were like him.
posted by threeturtles at 6:22 AM on August 23, 2010

I had this problem, too. Squirt guns did nothing. The only thing that stopped dear Tommy was consistently making a noise at him (a sort of "FSST!") followed by grabbing him by the scruff of his neck, (I would then support his feet), and removing him from the surface. He is a dopey cat, but about a month of doing it every time I saw him on a table, just the sound would work. Now he will try maybe once a season, but making the noise is enough to make him move.
posted by frecklefaerie at 6:58 AM on August 23, 2010

We used to put a couple of drops of cider vinegar in the spray bottle we used for our dog. It worked much better than plain water, but wasn't harmful. The only problem is that his head would smell like salad. Worth a try, though, since you already have the spray bottle.
posted by jrichards at 6:58 AM on August 23, 2010

On the efficacy of cat refrigeration as a negative-reinforcement tool: one of my cats loves getting closed in the refrigerator, and he's strong enough to let himself out when he's done. So this can't be be considered a great, universal deterrent even if it were torture, which it also is not.

When we have a clear shelf in the fridge (which we haven't in a while) he'll sneak in while the door is closing and roost there like a mother hen. Sometimes we'll open the door, see him there, and he'll just look at us innocently and not jump out and we'll let the door close until he's ready. So the fridge is not necessarily torture for cats any more than getting vacuumed is.

Obligatory pictures of Cola di Rienzo in the fridge: 1 , 2.
posted by xueexueg at 7:09 AM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seconding copressed air as a replacement (same plusses and minusses) for squirt guns. The mere sight of the can would elicit eye squints.
posted by rtimmel at 8:16 AM on August 23, 2010

Similar but cheaper than compressed air, the only thing our cat reacts to is being blown on.

That really doesn't sound good.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 9:08 AM on August 23, 2010

As a take on charmedimsure's idea of leaving cookie sheets filled with water on the counters, maybe you could add some towels to the pans to cut down on the water mess.

(By the way, the picture of Thomas is crazy cute. My poor kitties have a kerchief photo series in their future.)
posted by sophie at 12:30 PM on August 23, 2010

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